When I first became principal, I was compelled to explore all aspects of what it meant to be a 21st-century learner in an international baccalaureate context: as a global citizen, as a collaborative co-creator of knowledge, as a caring human being. We must equip every child to manage and thrive in this complex and fragile world in which we live, and to do so with tolerance and respect for others. Being a caring and competent user of technology is core to being a productive, proactive citizen…and we accomplish this with no tech staff. Let me explain:
Wildwood IB World Magnet School is a top performing K-8 public magnet school. We are a diverse urban learning community, where our families speak 23 different languages. Wildwood has students with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, as well as students with medical and physical fragilities. We are economically diverse as well, with students from poverty through affluence. We run an open lottery, and our 488 students come from around the city.
IB is fundamentally and foremost about the student, not about a program. It aligns to my mantra of student ownership of learning. At Wildwood, we have been holding K-8 student-led report card conferences for parents for six years. We have been doing individualized student data folders for as long. Students design and run all kinds of schoolwide projects and clubs. They plan and deliver many school assemblies like Pi Day, and they engage in all sorts of action and service, both inside the formal IB units of inquiry and outside of it.
Tools to Support Inquiry-Driven Learning
In my second year, in an effort to get technology into the hands of the students, foster authentic inquiry, and break the “test-prep” mentality which has come to dominate many a school landscape, I launched Inquiry Fair. I had only two expectations for the projects: they had to be student-driven inquiry, and there had to be some kind of technology use.
Inquiry Fair has bloomed into multiple inquiry showcases throughout the year, and has expanded to personal projects and service-learning projects. Students decide what they want to learn and/or do. With the support of a teacher or parent as facilitator, students research, design, plan, implement, and reflect on their learning. With the various platforms to house and share digital work, technology is an integral part of this learning process, especially for grades 4-8.
To give students anytime, anywhere access to literature and text at their level and cycle them through a learning process, we use ThinkCERCA. It allows us to reach students with high-level thinking and reasoning, regardless of their reading level. I love the way the CERCA Framework (which stands for Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, Counterargument, Audience) builds students’ critical thinking and argumentative writing skills.
Another inquiry-based initiative we are always working on is our Next Generation Curriculum model. Upper-grade students do deep research into one literary, one science, and one social science topic of interest to them, and are challenged to come up with a connecting theme and evidence for the connection from each of the domains.
Students also have to select and unpack several Common Core standards to assess the quality with which they defend and showcase their theme. This allows students to use technology to create knowledge that is brand new and unique to the student, and to publish their work as part of their digital footprint.
A pilot project for our Next Generation Curriculum was a student who researched feminist critique, medical ethics, and border wars. She ended up doing an art installation and website on the theme “Rightfully Ours.” It gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?